Embedded technology solutions developer Elektrobit Corp., known as EB, unveiled a satellite/terrestrial connectivity module that currently is in the research and design stage.

Earlier this year, EB announced a reference design for a satellite/terrestrial smartphone PDA that the company developed for TerreStar, which wanted to co-develop technology that could offer continuous communication during disasters. The smartphone could be used by public-safety personnel to access next-generation satellites when the terrestrial network infrastructure is unavailable or out of range, said Jeff Stern, vice president of government markets for satellite service provider TerreStar. Because TerreStar holds both satellite (S Band) and terrestrial spectrum, it was in a unique position to approach EB about developing a conventional-sized handset that would operate in each mode, Stern said.

“As a result of integrating those technologies together onto a handheld device that runs Windows Mobile, public safety specifically will be able to access the network when the terrestrial network is down,” he said.

Stern emphasized that the most important application is to enable the handset to operate on multiple frequencies and through various carriers. In addition, the satellite/cellular combination lets TerreStar provide coverage across the entire U.S. and support smartphone applications across networks. Indeed, the device could provide government users with a backup network if terrestrial networks fail — a scenario that occurred during last year's southern California wildfires that damaged cellular and LMR towers and base stations, he said.

“The design EB has developed will let emergency workers use their cell phone with them without any external components or being forced to learn new technology,” Stern said. “They use their cell phones every day.”

The EB connectivity module prototype currently is being tested using an AT&T GSM SIM card. It is designed to work with larger, more robust, next-generation satellites that are expected to enable data rates up to 300 kb/s and remove the need for the large antennas that are needed for current satellite devices to work, said Jarno Majava, director of connectivity products for EB.

Such capability can be leveraged in myriad applications, including remote meter reading in areas that lack terrestrial wireless connectivity. EB also plans to integrate the solution into security cameras. With some modifications, a satellite-only version of the module could be used to provide LMR radios with satellite connectivity — automatically or by use of a manual switch — in areas beyond the coverage area of the terrestrial network or when the terrestrial network is disabled.

Jani Lyrintzis, director of wireless solutions for EB, said the company does not intend to build its own devices with the satellite-terrestrial connectivity module, but rather license them to OEMs and ODMs. Products using the EB connectivity module could be ready within six months, but OEMs likely will wait until the next-generation satellites are providing service before manufacturing devices with such capability, Lyrintzis said.